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The challenge now is to bring context to content

With over 18 years of experience in the wireless communication, data and GPS industry, Ashutosh Pande is currently the Managing Director of SiRF India and VP Marketing at SiRF USA.Ashutosh Pande
Ashutosh Pande
Managing Director, SiRF Technology (India) Pvt. Limited
[email protected]

With over 18 years of experience in the wireless communication, data and GPS industry, Ashutosh Pande is currently the Managing Director of SiRF India and VP Marketing at SiRF USA. Prior to joining SiRF, he was founder and CEO of MicroCom Consulting, LLC. He has also worked for Intel, Japan Radio and NovAtel Communications. He holds seven patents and has over 15 patents pending. Ashutosh shares his ideas, vision and understanding of the Positioning and Location based industry with GIS Development, in an exclusive interview.

Today, SiRF Technology is an established name in the positioning and location based industry worldwide. Tell us something about the journey of SiRF since its start just 10 years ago.
In 1995, SiRF Technology, Inc. was founded. The intention was simple – to bring GPS technology and other wireless communications innovations to the masses. The idea was to reach out to as many and the widest possible range of consumer applications. Over the last 10 years, the company has developed path breaking techniques and extensive experience in GPS, spread-spectrum, radio frequency (RF), semiconductor, software and communications technologies. In just a decade, we are able to concentrate our resources on developing high-performance, cost-effective and high-quality chip set, IP and software solutions that will serve high-growth markets such as consumer GPS navigation and wireless communications. SiRF operates as a Location Technology Company providing end to end system solutions where the delivery mechanism is a combination of silicon and software, with an intellectual property (IP) licensing model. The journey of SiRF has been fast and worthwhile. Headquartered at in San Jose, California, SiRF Technology, Inc. has development facilities in Los Angeles, CA, Newport Beach, CA and Cedar Rapids, IO and India. SiRF has a unique opportunity present in its core, i.e., its management team. The core management has vast and significant experience in the personal computer IC market, which has been a catalyst for bringing GPS to the masses.

Where do you think the location and navigation based technology or industry is heading for? What is the vision of SiRF accordingly?
In a few years GPS-enabled location technologies have the potential to bring location awareness to virtually everything that moves. SiRF’s vision, simply stated, is achieving that. Today, if you access Internet through your mobile phone and use a search engine to search ‘burger’, it will display anything and everything about burgers. But imagine a situation where the search starts giving you results that also show the burger shops around the place you are located, without you asking. That is where location awareness shall enter every possible nooks of information industry. SiRF aims to remain and be the pioneer in developing technologies and business infrastructure to support the needs of mainstream consumer and commercial platforms: wireless handheld, automobile, mobile computer, consumer electronics and enterprise.

Unlike traditional GPS businesses that were geared to vertical markets centering on military and professional applications for GPS, SiRF shall continue to develop innovative and flexible business model to address the needs of the high volume GPS markets.

The location based industry emerged with immense hype in mid to late nineties. It has been about a decade. While the technology has evolved, what about the user market and applications? Has the bubble burst?
The challenge now is to ‘bring context to content’. We have to start thinking of ‘Location as the Killer Enabler’. That is the crux of the future. Regarding the manner in which the industry and the technology have shaped up, I would like to portray a different picture. Every aspect of the industry has developed aggressively and adequately. The techniques, the processes, the software and the hardware have all evolved. Applications have also diversified. Revenue figures and sales have also shot up remarkably for the entire industry. If you try to understand the GPS market evolution, you will find that in the whole of eighties, it was the military and the professional surveyors who were almost the sole users of this technique. In the nineties, the consumer market started. It picked up by mid nineties when the E-911 of US embraced the technology for its system. Car navigation as well as aircraft navigation started getting experimented. By late nineties, most movement-based research had the component of GPS in them. By the turn of the century, location based services entered the PDAs, computers and finally the mobile telephone. The spurt of activities and applications exploded with this. The next level shall be to bring context to every content we see throughout the day as we live. And this contextualisation shall be made through this industry. The picture is bright and promising like never before.

From SiRFstar-I to SiRFstar-III, there had been repeated breaking of records in the GPS chip sector. What is it that gives SiRF the edge?
Since its founding, SiRF has launched breakthrough GPS architectures and semiconductor innovations directed specifically at incorporating GPS-based location awareness into mainstream consumer products. The key idea of research and development has always been to reduce size, increase battery life and cut cost. It is these three basics that help SiRF in moving ahead. The ultimate user of any GPS shall always keep on looking for affordable products, for smaller size and enough power. SiRF has focused on these for years. It works towards developing technology to improve the GPS receiver performance in low signal areas, to speed up the time and to efficiently manage power consumption. Further, quality and effectiveness of the product also matters and SiRF enjoys an edge on those. Lastly, while the semiconductor content of what we do is important and skillful, the deep system knowledge and high software content of our product offerings are other differentiators.

How do you profile the location-based market as a whole?
I believe that GPS-enabled location technologies can have the greatest impact on four mainstream consumer platforms. The four platforms are – Wireless Handheld Products, Mobile Computing Products, Automotive Products and General Consumer & Marine Products. SiRF tries to build contextual and user targeted specific products that suit each of these four platforms.

How different are each of these four segments from each other and how does the strategy for each evolve?
Each segment is important and different stages of market maturity. The needs, usage pattern and demands of each segment are varied as per the usage of the GPS. ‘Wireless Handheld Products’ refer to a focused group of Location aware security devices, Child and personal locators, Smart phones for location based services and Asset trackers. The second platform which is ‘Mobile Computing Products’ are the PDAs with GPS and mapping capabilities, Compact Flash and other GPS peripherals, Laptop PC’s with GPS for GIS more for surveyors and professionals. ‘Automotive Products’ are a segment in them with car navigation systems, car security systems, auto emergency response systems, telematics systems and fleet tracking systems. Finally the ‘General Consumer & Marine Products’ refer to the handheld GPS products for outdoors, sports watches with embedded GPS, marine navigation GPS systems and location enabled digital cameras.

In brief the outreach of any service delivery should be aimed at the widest possible applications as I profiled. SiRF technology focuses on these four verticals and delivers instant location information, enabling users to find their way or find their loved ones anywhere in the world using car navigation systems, portable PCs, cellular phones, entertainment systems, hand-held devices and a wide-range of new and exciting consumer products.

How would you comment on the trends of the GPS Industry worldwide?
It is true that the major share of applications and market is existent in the West. Americas, Europe and also to a large extent Australia has amazing positioning applications coming up. The market is aware, capable of investing and convinced of the worth. Monitoring with GPS has reached out to wildlife, humans and marine. Applications have brought out newer devices and hardware and the ambit is growing. Mobile telephone applications are the biggest share of the market and shall be so for the future. Security and emergency based applications like E-911 are predominant in US and shall grow likewise over new areas and regions worldwide, and would definitely leverage the GPS industry. Europe still has a dominance of cell-ID based location services and the GPS applications are catching up. Finally, the enterprise sector, which comprises fleet management, dispatch-delivery services and business intelligence, are about to grow too.

Asia and South Americas are not far away. The huge market and fondness for information in these areas shall soon see an explosion in GPS applications. Already the mobile telephone industry is witnessing this. Korea and Japan are pretty much into GPS based information services. In fact Korea has recently come out with real life gaming applications of GPS where one has to move about a mall or a part of the city with a device to complete the location based game. The potential is immense considering the huge technical human resource also present in these regions. I believe the homeland security and common masses are the key application users for these regions. Hence, it is just a matter of time before the market trends will catch up to the same extent.

What drives the success and performance of SiRF?
SiRF has developed a business model over the years that are interestingly flexible and innovative. The key strength of SiRF is in its hand picked and excellent set of human resource. With them and a solid roadmap SiRF moves on. The process at SiRF is built around four critical success factors.

The first and most important factor is ‘rapid innovation’. I believe that using new architectural concepts and leading edge semiconductor manufacturing technology and trying to innovate every day helps. Using a fabless semiconductor model, SiRF is able to focus on rapid introduction of new GPS chipset designs based on the latest semiconductor processes, design tools and geometries for both RF and digital integrated circuits. The second factor is being ‘market-specific’. Software to customize GPS for specific market needs should be the focus that simply innovating for the sake of technical upheavals. SiRF bases its designs on a common architecture, which includes technology to improve the GPS receiver performance in low signal strength areas, to speed up the time to a location fix and to intelligently manage power consumption.

The third critical component of success has been ‘product support’ for standard and customized solutions. SiRF provides a complete set of standard toolkits that let customers take advantage of its entire features and makes it easy. Finally comes the factor of ‘flexible product implementation’. Partnering with the right service providers where our products fit in and add value for manufacturers and service providers to offer customers a range of volume appropriate solutions is important. With these in mind, there cannot be a looking back.